The royal family had a busy start to 2020. Following Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex's shock announcement to step down as senior members, the family were deep in discussions over the couple's future. Further details of the lawsuit Meghan is embroiled in with the Mail on Sunday also emerged at the beginning of January. Here is everything we know about Meghan’s lawsuit so far, and the updates from court.
First coming to public attention in October 2019, the lawsuit Meghan filed involves both the Mail on Sunday and its publisher, Associated Newspapers.
In an emotional statement published after the lawsuit was filed, Prince Harry said his wife had "become one of the latest victims of a British tabloid press that wages campaigns against individuals with no thought to the consequences — a ruthless campaign that has escalated over the past year." He explained that doing nothing "would be contrary to everything [the couple] believe in and that the legal action had "been many months in the making."
He continued: "There comes a point when the only thing to do is to stand up to this behaviour, because it destroys people and destroys lives. Put simply, it is bullying, which scares and silences people ... Though this action may not be the safe one, it is the right one."
Why Is Meghan Suing The ‘Mail On Sunday’?
In his statement, Prince Harry detailed how the lawsuit "hinges on one incident in a long and disturbing pattern of behaviour by British tabloid media." That incident revolves around the publication of a private letter handwritten by Meghan to her father, Thomas Markle.
The Mail on Sunday published the heartfelt letter in early 2019, per the Guardian. In it, the Duchess tol her father, who has spoken to the media on numerous occasions, that he had broken her heart "into a million pieces."
Thomas had previously detailed to the press how he had been left out of Meghan's new life, reports the Guardian, and he justified releasing parts of the letter to the Mail on Sunday after Meghan's friends gave "critical interviews" to People magazine.
In his October statement, Harry said the contents "were published unlawfully in an intentionally destructive manner to manipulate [readers] ... they purposely misled you by strategically omitting select paragraphs, specific sentences, and even singular words to mask the lies they had perpetuated for over a year."
As the Guardian reports, the author of a letter holds the copyright, even when it has been sent to another person. Law firm Schillings are acting on behalf of Meghan and filed a High Court claim alleging misuse of private information, infringement of copyright, and breach of the Data Protection Act 2018, per the Evening Standard. The couple are funding the lawsuit privately and donating any proceeds to an anti-bullying charity.
What Evidence Is Meghan Presenting To The Court?
In November 2019, legal documents revealed exactly what the Duchess of Sussex was accusing the Mail on Sunday of. Per Harper's Bazaar, one of the big allegations centred on the paper's claim that it had published the full letter. According to Meghan's legal team, the paper "deliberately omitted or suppressed other parts in order to portray a false picture."
The duchess also hit back against a number of "false" reports published by the newspaper. The Mail on Sunday reported Meghan had failed to ask after her father's health or financially help him. But the documents state she has a "long history of looking after her father’s welfare."
Other articles accused of publishing incorrect information included stories detailing Meghan's "gang-scarred" childhood home, how taxpayers had funded the renovation of Frogmore Cottage, and alleging the community kitchen she wrote a cookbook with had links to terrorism.
How Has The Paper Defended Its Actions?
An initial statement from the paper, per iNews, read: “The Mail on Sunday stands by the story it published and will be defending this case vigorously. Specifically, we categorically deny that the Duchess’s letter was edited in any way that changed its meaning.”
Per the Telegraph, the paper's defence team are likely to call Meghan's father to testify. Defence documents state that the People interview with Meghan's anonymous friends acknowledged the existence of the letter, arguing it was no longer classed as confidential.
“Mr Markle was also entitled publicly to correct the false and damaging (to him) information that had been given about his conduct in the People interview, and to have as much of the letter and its contents published as was necessary for that purpose," state court papers.
They also allege that claims, reported by People, saying Meghan was contacting her father "up to the night before" her May 19 wedding, were untrue, stating the last contact Thomas received from Meghan was a text on May 17. That text allegedly told Thomas to stop speaking to the media, "accusing him of causing hurt to his daughter," and is said to have been signed from "M and H."
As the BBC reports, the paper will argue there was "huge and legitimate public interest" in publishing the letter. It says in a 44-page legal filing that the royal family "rely on publicity about themselves and their lives in order to maintain the privileged positions they hold and promote themselves ... [Meghan] did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy that the contents of the letter were private and would remain so."
The defence even claims that Meghan's "elaborate handwriting" is a sign the Duchess knew it would be seen by people other than her father. It also says the published data was not sensitive, per the BBC, and that the published portions of the letter "accurately conveyed the tone, content, and meaning."
In an interview with Good Morning Britain, Meghan's father opened up about the impending court case. "I reached out to the [Mail on Sunday]; they didn't come to me," he said, adding he wanted to put "some things straight that were being said about me." "[Meghan] claims it's her letter but, if it has a stamp on it in the United States, it becomes my letter as well," he explained. (According to New York-based attorney, Mark Fowler, the recipient of a letter in the U.S. does own the letter itself. However, they are not allowed to publish the entirety of its contents without the sender's consent. Under fair use laws, portions may be quoted.)
Thomas admitted he felt the media criticism against Harry and Meghan was "justified", but said he really misses his daughter. When asked how he felt about potentially seeing Meghan for the first time in years in a courtroom, Thomas, who has never met Harry or Archie, replied:
"All I know is that I am taking responsibility for something I've done. If it comes to meeting them in a courtroom, that's great. At least I finally get to see them." He finished: "I don't want a face-off or have a battle with them. That's not what I'm looking for ... I would love to make peace with Harry, make peace with my daughter, and certainly see my grandson."
What Has Happened So Far?
Court documents show that the Associated Newspapers defense team wrote to the Duchess’s lawyers on April 6 stating that the first preliminary hearing, due to take place on April 24, should not go ahead if possible due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and offered not to seek costs if the disputed parts of her claim were withdrawn. However, per the Guardian, it has been alleged that Meghan’s legal team replied saying she “considered it was unreasonable to accept the offer.” The hearing went ahead, and was conducted remotely with Mr Justice Warby sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London and lawyers and reporters attending remotely via Microsoft Teams.
In the hearing, the Lawyers for Associated Newspapers argued that parts of the Duchess’s privacy claim should be struck out. Antony White QC stated that the allegations of “malicious intent” in relation to the words and sentences the Mail on Sunday lifted from the letter had no place in this lawsuit. “They are not relevant, they are not properly pleaded and should be pruned from the claimant’s case,” he said.
White also stated that Meghan’s claim that the newspaper had “harassed, humiliated, manipulated and exploited” her father were “remarkable” considering the fact that she had not contacted him to ask if he agreed. David Sherborne QC, Meghan’s lawyer, responded by saying that was a “complete fallacy.”
In addition, Associated Newspapers sought to strike out references to nine other articles written by the Mail on Sunday about Meghan. Sherbourne responded by saying they were important as they illustrated the newspaper’s agenda of publishing “intrusive and offensive” stories about the Duchess.
In a ruling made on May 1, Justice Warby sided with the Mail on Sunday and Associated Newspapers. Delivering his ruling, the judge struck out parts of Meghan's case including the allegations that the publisher had acted “dishonestly” by omitting sections of the letter and that the publisher deliberately “stirred up” issues between Meghan and her father. These allegations won’t form part of the Duchess’s case at this stage, as Justice Warby has deemed tham “irrelevant” to her claim for misuse of private information, copyright infringement, and breach of the Data Protection Act.
“I do not consider that the allegations struck out on that basis go to the ‘heart’ of the case,” said the judge, “which at its core concerns the publication of five articles disclosing the words of, and information drawn from, the letter written by the claimant to her father in August 2018.” Mr Justice Warby later added that these claims in her case may be refiled at a later stage, if they are presented in a manner he deems fit.
Meghan’s lawyers have made it clear they would continue to move forward with the case, insisting that the ruling didn’t change the core elements of the case. “The Duchess’ rights were violated; the legal boundaries around privacy were crossed,” a spokesperson for Schillings said in a statement issued soon after the ruling. “As part of this process, the extremes to which the Mail on Sunday used distortive, manipulative, and dishonest tactics to target the Duchess of Sussex have been put on full display.”
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